Why A Reverse Grocery List Could Save You So Much Time On Your Next Shopping Trip

Finally, a solution to avoid ending up with four jars of cinnamon again.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

Pretty much all of us have been there: You’re standing in the baking aisle, trying to run through your mental picture of whether you have a bottle of vanilla extract for your upcoming cake recipe adventures. Since you aren’t 100-percent sure, you snag the item in question “just in case,” and all of a sudden, you have twins or triplets of the same product. Not only are these taking up precious pantry real estate, but they also might get past their prime before you can polish off the goods.

Related:The Pantry Staple You Should Probably Replace

The opposite challenge can cause culinary challenges as well. If your crew’s stomachs are already grumbling for the ground beef skillet dinner you promised at breakfast, and you forgot to add the meat to your grocery list, it can be frustrating to need to pivot—or make an extra trip to the store.

To try to steer clear of both scenarios, I always shop with a list. Up until this year, I have sworn by my mom’s grocery shopping strategy: Look through the kitchen to see which must-haves need replenishing, add in the ingredients for any new recipes for the week, and organize this all in a list based on the layout of the store I’m shopping in. At most locations, this means starting with produce, then weaving through the aisles of cans, boxes, snacks, and baking goodies. Finish at the refrigerator and freezer section—so items don’t melt—then check out and stock your shelves at home.

But recently, I stumbled upon an even better solution that has already saved my time, money, and stress: a reverse grocery list.

What Is a Reverse Grocery List?

A reverse grocery list involves keeping inventory of the grocery items you have in your home, then marking which run out. Once you craft your first reverse grocery list, it's essentially written for you for all future shopping excursions. Admittedly, there’s a bit of time investment with your inaugural list, but I can confirm I’ve earned all that time back already.

There are also a couple decisions to make at the outset: where to store your reverse grocery list and how to organize it. To optimize the reverse grocery list process, consider a digital tool, such as a new Notes app item, a Google Doc, or a spreadsheet in a Cloud drive of some sort. That way, it’s accessible anywhere and by any member of the family.

Once you’ve chosen your desired location to build it, divide your current stock mentally into categories that make sense to you. A few examples:

  • Shelf-stable, refrigerator, freezer

  • Spices, baking, dry goods, produce, dairy, protein, freezer

  • Based on the layout of the store (the best of both worlds, mom!)

How To Make a Reverse Grocery List

Look through your pantry, refrigerator, freezer, cabinets, and anywhere else you store recipe-related products, and add every item in your current culinary arsenal to the reverse grocery list, sorting as you go. Think of this like taking inventory—you’re listing and categorizing what products are in house, as well as how many.

As you use up any item on the reverse grocery list—say, the jarred peppers you polished off in the pimento cheese—you can simply highlight, bold, place a star, or mark in any way you choose to code that item as “out.” Then the next time you go to the supermarket or grocery shop online for curbside pick-up or delivery, you can add that item to your cart, remove the formatting change in your reverse grocery list, and your list is all set for next time.

The Bottom Line

A reverse grocery list is a round-up of the store-bought cooking and baking ingredients you have in your home. To use a reverse grocery list, you mark what’s out and that builds your list as the week goes on. This savvy shopping strategy makes it easy to recall what is out of stock, and eliminates the need to start from scratch with a new list every week.

A reverse grocery list is especially handy for shoppers who buy in bulk or have a regular meal plan or repertoire of frequently-made recipes. You’ll still need to add on more perishable items or ingredients for new or more infrequent recipe adventures, like the baked ziti you want to bring to the potluck or the apple pie cookies you’re sharing at the bake sale. But having a baseline inventory means that my kitchen is more organized than ever, and I’ve already slightly lowered my grocery bill and steered clear of an impromptu trip or two to the supermarket.

Now that you know how to build a reverse grocery list, discover a brilliant refrigerator clean out plan to help you save even more time and money.

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